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The C.A.S.H. Courier

ARTICLE from the Spring 2010 Issue

Illegal Laws - The Oxymoronic Nightmare Of Animal Activism!

By Peter Muller

There are a number of laws in the US that are primarily intended to put a chilling effect on animal protection activism. These laws are judged by many disinterested attorneys to be blatantly unconstitutional – yet they exist on the federal level as well as state levels. They are tools for harassment and intimidation. Most of them will not withstand a serious challenge in the courts. Unfortunately, under our system of laws it is up to us, the intended victims, to muster up the resources, time, effort and often personal sacrifice to undo these laws.

The most notorious and destructive of these is the Federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) which, by its very terms, violates the first amendment.

Under AETA you can be imprisoned for 10 years, if the offense results in economic damage exceeding $100,000, and for 20 years if the offense results in economic damage exceeding $1,000,000.

If you or your group is contemplating an action and the following elements are present:

1) Interstate communication is involved (you send an announcement of your demo or boycott to an AR-listserv, or call friends in neighboring states).

2) You intend to cause economic damage to your target company (boycotts, advertisements, and demonstrations).

3) The target is an animal enterprise (any commercial or academic enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products).

Yet state cognates that often provide for even more severe penalties exist in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin

Under the Pennsylvania law, for example, you can get up to 40 years for the same offense that gets you 20 years under the federal law.

Hunter harassment statutes exist in all 50 states, which most activists concerned with hunting issues know, but there is also a federal hunter harassment law. Many of the state laws prohibit speech directed at hunters. This is a clear violation of the First Amendment.

The federal law (16 USC CHAPTER 72 - RECREATIONAL HUNTING SAFETY) provides:

It is a violation of this section intentionally to engage in any physical conduct that significantly hinders a lawful hunt.

What does that include: Playing a clarinet, waving a banner, singing hymns? I don’t know of a single instance where someone was charged with the federal law. What is its intent? To frighten activists into self-censorship?

Our attention was very recently called to a new twist in a proposed change to the Idaho hunter harassment statute; the change provides not only penalties for engaging a hunter afield with speech or physical action but to communicate with a hunter at any time by phone, electronic means, or mail in a manner that indicates our displeasure with hunting and is perceived by the hunter as “intimidating.” House bill no. 531 (currently in the Resources and Conservation Committee) accessible at http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/legislation/2010/H0531.pdf

states (in part):

No person shall:..

Harass, intimidate or threaten by any means including, but not limited to, personal or written contact, or via telephone, email or website, any person who is or was engaged in the lawful taking or control of fish or wildlife. …

Whenever a hunter feels intimidated by what’s on your website – you’ll go to jail in Idaho.

The sponsors added a contradictory weasel-clause:

The conduct declared unlawful in this section does not include constitutionally protected activity. Even though it clearly does do just that.

We can only pity the judge who is going to try to make sense of this legislative mess.

The “silliest” of these anti-animal-activists laws are perhaps the “food disparagement” laws. In Wisconsin, if you sell tofu and tell people that cheese stinks, you’re in serious trouble:

§96.03 states (in part)

No market development program may be funded under a marketing order which makes use of false or unwarranted claims on behalf of an affected commodity or disparages the quality, value, sale or use of any other agricultural commodity.

These laws are so silly and so blatantly against the first amendment guarantee of freedom of speech that attempts to enforce them are rare. Whenever there is an attempt to enforce them they provide endless material for comedians throughout the world. The laws are invariably held to be unconstitutional – but not before costing the defendants tens of thousand of dollars in legal fees. Yet these laws exist in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin.

We need a federal ombudsman who will bring court challenges against laws that are clearly in violation of the constitution to make it unnecessary for individuals to spend time and resources to undo laws that should never have passed.

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